ALL over the country today Catholic faithful—and even some Philippine Independent Catholic Church (Aglipayan) faithful, such as those in Pandacan —vigorously celebrate their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, presented for adoration in the image of the miraculous Holy Child.
The most rousing—impressive to foreign tourists, some of whom are pilgrims—to the soul of faithful celebrants is that of Cebu. Participants in the religious part of the Cebu Sinulog celebration almost to a man (and woman) when asked attest to the deepening of their love for God and their determination to keep their vows of piety and changing themselves to a higher quality of Christian person.
The Santo Niño image of Cebu is believed to be a source of many miracles.
It is the oldest religious image in our country. Made of wood, it was sculpted, carved, by Flemish artisans. The image was one of the religious statues Ferdinand Magellan (who was a devout Catholic) brought with him in his monumental journey to our islands in 1521.
One of this great man’s feats (which he of course achieved with the help of the clergymen in his crew) was the baptism of the Cebuano King, or chieftain, Humabon, his wife and 500 of their relatives and people. Magellan gave the Santo Niño image to Humabon’s wife as a baptismal gift. She was christened with the name Juana—which is why historical writings, including that of Magellan’s secretary and historian, Miguel Pigaefetta, refer to her as Queen Juana.
Magellan’s ships and men departed after the death of the illustrious captain in the Battle of Mactan, where Magellan was either speared or clubbed with a rice pestle to death by King (or chieftain) Lapulapu.
In 1565, or 44 years later, the part of Cebu, which was Humabon’s and Juana’s kingdom, was destroyed by fire. Another batch of colonizing Spaniards, those in Legazpi’s expedition, found Cebu hostile, instead of friendly to them. Humabon had apparently been deposed and the baptized Cebuanos had for the most part turned their backs on the new religion Magellan had brought to them. They had also decided to go against the treaty King Humabon had entered into with Magellan that placed Cebu under Spanish suzerainty. It was the Spaniards who set fire on the houses of Cebu in process of conquering Humabon’s kingdom.
The miracle of the Santo Niño is that in one of the razed houses, a Spanish soldier found the image of the Child Jesus unburned and undamaged.
Generations of Cebuanos have, since the establishment of Spanish power on their island, made, with Church approval, the Santo Niño their patron saint.
Through the centuries, the adoration of the Child Jesus has spread throughout the land.
The Santo Niño is very much associated with the celebration of the Christianization of the Philippines.
The Feast of the Santo Niño is the occasion of such grand touristic spectacle—and month-long January festivities as the Sinulog in Cebu as well as the Ati-Atihan in Panay and the Binirayan, Dinagyang, etc. in other parts of our country.
In Manila today there will be the grand Lakbayaw in Tondo, the Buling-Buling in Pandacan, the Pajotan de Sto. Nino in Caloocan and the Bambino Festival in Pasig.
The spiritual side of the feast of the Holy Child is obviously lost in all the so garish display of transgender beauties in some of these festivities.
But the Church has held on the true significance of the feastday.
Something that is an “only in the Philippines” phenomenon is the transformation of the Santo Niño image from the Infant King and God to the doctor, nurse, policeman, postman, and what have you.
It’s a charming and commendable practice for people of the various professional occupations and trades to look up to Jesus as their sovereign.
I can only pray that, for instance, those who have created the Holy Child Jesus Policeman are not petitioning for larger amounts of kotong instead of asking for the grace of conversion into a cop that is a model of virtues.
The Department of Tourism list of Santo Nino fiestas in January includes the Ati-Atihan in Kalibo, Makato Sto. Nino in Poblacion Makato, and Altavas Sto. Nino in Poblacion Altavas in Aklan; the Dinagyang in Iloilo City, the Binanog in Lambunao, and the Hinirugyaw in Calinog, in Iloilo; the Sinulog in Kabankalan City, the Ibajay Ati-Ati, and the Dinagsa Ati-Atihan in Cadiz City in Negros Occidental; the Kahimunan Festival in Libertad, Butuan City; the Sto. Nino Festival in Malolos, Bulacan; and the Lakbayaw in Tondo, Manila.
In Pasay, the annual Santo Nino grand procession, organized by the Congregacion del Santisima Nombre del Nino Jesus, will have its 40th anniversary next week.
A hundred beautifully regally clothed images of the Child Jesus, each mounted on carrozas, will be in procession along Roxas Boulevard.